This isn’t a beach read. It’s not a clever mystery. Rather, “Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir” by Tyler Feder is a journey through her life with her mom, who tragically died when Feder was still a teenager. In fact, her mother as just 47 years old when she died from cancer.
As might be expected, the graphic memoir is at times heartbreaking. But it’s also humorous, as well, thanks to the clever graphics and the self-deprecating humor that permeates many pages. Grief crosses cultural and religious barriers. Although Feder is Jewish, and the funeral arrangements and mourning are typically Jewish, others will be able to relate to the essence of what she relates — the grief that eventually merges into laughter with family, then grief, a never-ending rollercoaster of emotion.
Jewish readers in particular, though, will really relate to the customs and even, for me, to the geography. As soon as she described growing up in a Jewishy northwest suburb of Chicago, I knew just which suburb she was talking about. Jewish geography is a game that is played often and there are many winners. The shiva, the customs she did and did not observe, we all can sympathize and empathize. But for those who have a wake before the funeral instead of a shiva after, the emotions we share — no matter our ethnicity or belief — are universal.
Her thoughts regarding the platitudes she heard include, “My mom did NOT lost a battle!” She responds, “If someone gets hit by a bus, they didn’t LOSE A BATTLE WITH THE BUS!!” It’s an eye-opening read for anyone who has someone close to them who has lost a parent early in life. It’s a primer for what to say and especially what NOT to say. The illustrations add to the appeal and the flow of her story. They also serve to make the book a quick read, but one that is powerful nonetheless.
But most of all, it’s a tribute to her mother, Rhonda Feder, who must have been a wonderful mother. Her smile was engaging, her interests unique, and her love for her family all-encompassing. We have a Jewish saying: May her memory be a blessing.
Tyler Feder has made sure of that.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Dial Books, the publisher, for review purposes.